Let there be light

Urbexing can be done without a camera. Yes, Siree !

Unbeknownst to me until recently, some people engage in Urbex purely for the experience of exploring abandoned places, without any intention of actually taking pictures. However, in this day and age, almost everyone (and their dogs) has a phone, and therefore, a camera.

So no, a camera is not a sine qua non condition in an Urbex, but still, let’s not kid ourselves, photography often plays a significant role in urbexing. In mine, at the very least!

Many urbexers use cameras to document their findings and share their experiences. Taking photos helps them capture the atmosphere of the location or create a lasting record of their adventure. That being said, whether or not you choose to bring a camera on your urbex expeditions is entirely up to you. If you do though, here’s a little background on photography’s inner working, and you’ll quickly understand that the concept of “photography” itself can be a challenge in unsafe and sometimes dark environments.

Now get ready, I’m going to pedant on your asses and bore you to death.

The word “photography” comes from the Greek words “phōs,” meaning “light,” and “graphē,” meaning “drawing” or “writing.” So, “photography” literally means “drawing with light.” The term was coined in 1839 by John Herschel, who is also credited with coining the terms “positive” and “negative” to describe the two types of images produced by photography.

But I digress -as I often do. The point is this; light is one of the most critical elements in photography, it is what creates the so called “image”.

Not only would there be no photograph without light, but light also interacts with the subject, dramatically impacting the final image.

The catch is that Urbex is sometimes (often, for me) conducted in relative or even absolute darkness. Since photography is essentially the process of capturing light and translating it into an image, we quickly encounter a problem: images that look like they were taken by a toddler on a sugar rush…

Bright outside, dark inside. The (seemingly) impossible exposure.

When light enters the camera lens, it’s focused through the lens onto the camera’s sensor (old timers remember films) which in turn, records the light and creates an image. The amount (or lack thereof) and quality of the light that enters the camera will impact the brightness, contrast, and color of the final image.

Taking (good) pictures in the dark is quite difficult because there’s not enough light for the camera sensor to capture a clear image. To capture a well-exposed, tack sharp photograph, the camera needs to let in enough light to create a bright image without overexposing it.

When taking a photo in the dark, the camera’s shutter usually needs to stay open for a longer period of time to let in enough light. This might cause the photo to be blurry. Additionally, annoyingly low light conditions can cause digital noise, which will reduce the overall image quality and detail. I personnaly hate noise: do NOT believe those who swear “noise is just like grain“. I have yet to see a photograph with estetic noise.

Sometimes, light is not an issue…

Ahhh,” I hear you say, “but light can be used creatively to enhance the mood, tone, and composition of a photograph“. Sure, but not in most Urbex environment.

Forget about using it “creatively to enhance” the mood or composition of your photos. Soft, diffused lighting from a window? Dramatic shadows and contrast from harsh directional light? Nope, none of that applies in darkness. It’s just a hot mess of blurry, noisy, and underexposed shots. The proverbial shit quickly hits the proverbial fan.

So…what to do ?

Well, urebexers can use a tripod to keep the camera steady, increase the ISO (sensitivity to light) of the camera, use a larger aperture to let in more light and, evidently, let’s not forget the good ol’ flash, because nothing says “abandoned and creepy” like a bright burst of light in the dark.

So, what is a wondering artist to do ? Don’t worry, there’s more to come on this riveting topic. Stay tuned for the next episode of “The Urbex Sentinel: Photography and its Dark Side.”

Can’t wait, right? Yeah, me neither.

…but sometimes, it is.

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